Don’t give up the day job ~ but not for the reasons you’d think

Why the day job might just save your creative expression.

I sometimes read about writers( and other artists) bewailing the fact that they have to do a day job to support themselves and wishing that they could just jack in said day job and just write all day. The internal conflict between what they wish to do and what they have to do seems to cause much distress and discontent and I thought it might be a good idea to examine this concept in some detail and perhaps place the day job in a different light.
I have two jobs. Neither pays enormously well and they certainly don’t pay all the bills. One has caused me a massive amount of grief over the three and a half years I have been doing it but I won’t whinge about that now. The fact of the matter is that the events of the last few years of that job are such that if I wrote them as a key part of a novel, they would never be believed. My other job takes me all over Europe, I get to meet interesting people, eat occasionally rather challenging food and see places that I’d never have seen. I’m a borderline agoraphobic so ending up with a job that involves traveling seems a pretty huge cosmic joke at times. But it’s pushed me out of my comfort zone, a space which was threatening at one time to become smaller and smaller every year, and testing and enlarging the comfort zone is a vital part of growth.
Each of my job brings me insights and refreshment for my mental landscape that staying home all the time might never do. There comes a time when you need to feed the animal that is your imagination and both of my jobs do just that. It’s not a question of spotting a curious looking chap in a coffee shop and playing at inventing a life story for him: that’s just an exercise. It’s about the feeding of the deep and often unconscious processes going on inside the mind. I get to chat to the strange people in coffee shops and actually ask them their life stories and believe me, wild though my imagination is, there are plenty of times when the stories people tell me are far wilder and more unpredictable than the ones I can invent. I have a knack, a gift if you like, of being approachable and people tell me things. I mean total strangers tell me things they probably wouldn’t tell their families or friends. It would be an easy matter to hijack these tales and use them unadulterated but that’s cheating. Those wild tales, the sights and sounds and sensations all sink deep and are left to ferment. I am fermenting the work stories of the last couple of years and I am not sure yet if the resulting brew is a rough West Country scrumpy or something more refined. Give it time and it becomes something smooth and intoxicating.
I can hear you thinking, well that’s all very well for her but I do a desk job and that never happens to me. Really? I wonder. I’ve done my share of tedious jobs and the teaching job is one that I find tedious at the moment because it’s so full on when there’s work and dead when there’s not. But every day there’s a few gems to be stored away and worked upon. The travel job has its down side: long hours, unpredictable food, being away from home.( I wrote this in a Premier Inn just outside of Leicester because I was to start my working day that night at 11.30pm. I didn’t get to bed before 11pm the next day. I was basically hanging around reading and conning up on my notes for the next day. That side of my job is far from glamorous.)
So, imagine I have the chance to write full time….what would I do? Well, in all probability, I’d probably carry on with both jobs too and there’s good reason for this. In both jobs I often have great gaps between assignments; last winter I had about 7 weeks without any work at all. This year I had no work all March. Even when I am working, I have time at evenings and weekends to write. I have found that my output when I have all the time to write is actually about the same as when I have a limited time. A thousand words a day makes a decent size novel in around three months. A thousand words takes me about an hour. The long hours on coaches and sitting waiting for students also give me a lot of mental space where I can dream and plan and even sit and write if I want to. I seldom write while on a coach because I end up feeling sick and writing by hand is often unreadable when the road is not perfectly smooth(which is all roads!)
The logistics of finding time to write while doing a full or part time job is tricky, especially if you have a family or an active social life, or if your job spills over into your private time in some way. But it’s worth remembering that a whole load of famous writers did just that; few ever earned enoughfrom their writing to live on. Trollope was a postmaster and wrote his daily thousand words before he opened his post office for the day; his output was steady and his work of high quality. Being able to write all day every day guarantees neither high output nor quality. Sometimes the sheer guilty pleasure of getting to write means that like any stolen time, it’s both sweeter in terms of personal satisfaction and in terms of the beauty of what you do with it. If you get up every morning and write, there will come a morning where you wake and think, “Do I have to?” Those mornings start to cluster and before you know where you are the dreaded writer’s block has its claws in you. Waking on a day you have carved out for yourself to do with as you will is a different feeling.
If writing becomes your job, then all the other negative aspects of a job come along too, sooner or later. If writing is your vocation, your calling, your passion, then it will retain its joy, even when you are tearing your hair out over it.
That’s where a real job can save your creative life. You get to do something outside your own inner world, you get to connect with ordinary people as well as the extraordinary ones in your head. It means that those extraordinary ones gain some grounding in reality which in turn leads to greater realism and the ability to capture your readers’ attention and keep it. Imagination is a great tool when blended with experience and when it is blended with experience that is share and understood by your readers then you have a hold on their minds that pure imagination can never give. We need a handhold of the familiar to be able to climb mental mountains. And that’s one of the things an ordinary job can give you.

(A version of this article appeared at www.creativebarbwire.wordpress.com last year. )

The Red Shoes ~ a dark faery tale of compulsion and addiction

 

The Red Shoes ~ a dark faery tale of compulsion and addiction

  

If you remember the Hans Christian Andersen story from childhood, you’ll remember the plot basically goes like this: orphaned child adopted by rich old lady covets ‘sinful’ red shoes and tricks her guardian into having some made for her by a shoemaker. The child finally breaks the prohibition on wearing them to church, and on speaking with a strange soldier who admires the shoes (the devil in disguise) the shoes come to life and dance her away until she begs the excutioner to frees her from them by cutting her feet off, and the shoes (complete with feet) dance away. Earlier versions have the girl dance herself to a skeleton and dance on after death.

Whichever version you know, they’re all pretty grim. The version in the Kate Bush song is possibly grimmer than either. If you watch the second video, it tells the story of a dancing diva who comes to a dowdy and quiet girl backstage and tricks her into taking the shoes from her, whereupon she is freed from the spell of the shoes and runs away leaving the girl to discover her hideous mistake.

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXTRe9ttMXw this is just the song

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JzkQ_jWSDHo this is the video; very disturbing but please watch, it’s powerful.

Oh she move like the Diva do
I said ‘I’d love to dance like you.’
She said ‘just take off my red shoes
Put them on and your dream’ll come true
With no words, with no song
You can dance the dream with your body on
And this curve, is your smile
And this cross, is your heart
And this line, is your path
Oh it’s gonna be the way you always thought it would be
But it’s gonna be no illusion
Oh it’s gonna be the way you always dreamt about it
But it’s gonna be really happening to ya
Really happening to ya
Really happening to ya’
Oh the minute I put them on
I knew I had done something wrong
All her gifts for the dance had gone
It’s the red shoes, they can’t stop dancing, dancing
And this curve, is your smile
And this cross, is your heart
And this line, is your path
‘Oh it’s gonna be the way you always thought it would be
But it’s gonna be no illusion
Oh it’s gonna be the way you always dreamt about it
But it’s gonna be really happening to ya’
She gotta dance, she gotta dance
And she can’t stop ’till them shoes come off
These shoes do, a kind of voodoo
They’re gonna make her dance ’till her legs fall off
Feel your hair come tumbling down
Feel your feet start kissing the ground
Feel your arms are opening out
And see your eyes are lifted to God
With no words, with no song
I’m gonna dance the dream
And make the dream come true
I’m gonna dance the dream
And make the dream come true
She gotta dance, she gotta dance
And she can’t stop ’till them shoes come off
These shoes do, a kind of voodoo
They’re gonna make her dance ’till her legs fall off
Call a doctor, call a priest
They’re gonna whip her up like a helicopter
Really happening to ya
Really happening to ya
You gotta dance….
 
 

 

 

 

This is the tale at the heart of every addiction, every compulsion, every obsession. If you have ever been in the grip of any of these, you’ll know that manic, frantic need for the substance, or idea or action or person, that drives you beyond wild. Listen to the music, hear that beat, that’s your heart. Hear that inner scream, that’s you.

In both the original faery tale and the Kate Bush version there is a trickster, a person who cons you into taking the forbidden shoes because they bleed into your dreams. They only offer you it, they cannot force it onto you. You choose to take it. “Oh the minute I put them on, I knew I had done something wrong!” It can take years to wake up to the damage of a compulsion or addiction but some part of us knows, at that very first instance. Is it any wonder that many users become dealers? We seek to rid ourselves of the Red Shoes, usually by passing them on to some other unwitting victim who buys into the same dark dreams; and yet however we give away or sell the Shoes, they’re there, stuck on our feet and no amount of pulling can get them off.

They’ve become part of us. The solution is always radical. It’s always painful, often excruciatingly so. Cut it off, cut it out of your life. The faery-tale version has the shoes dance away, gruesome but harmless because they can never be filled again by living feet. The song version leaves the ending to the imagination, and it’s likely a dark one.

Go back in time to the moment you first donned your Red Shoes. What did you think they were going to do for you? The chances are they did, but like all demonic pacts, never in the way you thought they would. The outcome twists your hopes and intentions.

Look at your Red Shoes. Are they pretty any more or do they drive you to do things you don’t like admitting? Can you take them off and throw them in the river or into the fire or does the thought of that make you shudder?

If you can’t take them off, time to find someone who can, even if they take your feet away too. Better to walk lame than dance into hell.

 

{for more analysis of the meanings of faery tales I would recommend reading Women who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. It’s a brick of a book but wonderfully written. Read more about it and her here : http://shadowwings.wordpress.com/2008/11/27/refuse-to-fall-down/

or here http://www.clarissapinkolaestes.com/

What depression feels like ~ a moment by moment analysis

  What depression feels like ~ a moment by moment analysis

I’m sinking. I must have been sinking for ages but I couldn’t see it. I try to speak but words won’t come. They feel stale, overused and meaningless as I turn them over in my head like worn out clothes. I fall silent, all the things I might once have talked of now long forgotten, like those far off days on a summer afternoon after school, that lose meaning when you try and put those memories into some sort of adult order. My mind stutters, the words dry; there seems no point in speaking them. It won’t mean anything to anyone who wasn’t there at the time, and the memories vanish in a swirl of numbness.

I am eyes, seeing and observing, a pair of eyes in an ocean of nothingness. Some things are too bright, as if illuminated from within by the heat of decay; other things are dull as if a coating of filmy dirt covers them. I know some thing is beautiful but I feel nothing. It doesn’t touch me.

I am ears, hearing and remembering, but for what purpose I do not know. Like an idiot, I listen, trying to catch words in the chatter of sparrows, and make sense of the wind in the trees.

Someone once described to me what taking Ketamine feels like: you’re standing in a long corridor lined with doors. Each door leads somewhere but as you stand, the doors slam shut, hard, one after another. All that’s left is you, in a great long echoing hallway that goes nowhere with locked doors going on forever.

I can’t think. Every word I carve out of the rock with my fingernails, groping all the time for meaning in the darkness, the shape of things familiar and yet unknown. I’m aware of the things I know, but locked away somewhere, and I don’t have the password to open the doors again.

There are tears under the surface somewhere, bitter tears full of self pity and reproach. None of your sweet tears of release. These are pure acid and I will not shed them. They’ll corrode everything they touch.

So I sit, silent and unable to reach out and watch like a prisoner in a tower, waiting in that endless corridor, in the fading hope that one of those doors might not be locked after all.

It’s as close to dying as you can get, I think.

  { Edit. I posted this last night on http://thewildsheepsociety.wordpress.com for a number of reasons. For people who have no experience personally of depression, I’d like to remind them that it is an illness, it’s not something a person suffering with it chooses to endure, nobody enjoys it and it’s as damaging and debilitating as an illness or injury that can be seen plainly. I don’t write these sorts of things as a bid for attention, but initially as a way of trying to understand what happens to me, and I share some of them as a part of widening awarenss of an issue that is still somehow taboo. People who know me in the so-called real world are shocked to discover I have this illness because most of the time I hide it. When I suffer with the onset, I find I stop being able to talk. I can still write, usually, but my normal loquacious self vanishes and I will fall silent. I can still come out with the oneliners and the quick comebacks but only as a default setting. I don’t find them funny myself; it’s a way of diverting attention.}

First Impressions of the Kindle ~ the good, the bad and the downright ugly

 

First impressions of the Kindle ~ the good, the bad and the downright ugly!

   I’ve held off from the commitment to an e-reader for a number of reasons. Sitting on the sidelines, listening to the debates about whether the advent of the e-reader would mean the death of print, I’ve sat firmly on the fence and watched as the battle raged and wondered what the fuss was about. I’ve heard people praise their personal e-reader to the high heavens, I’ve heard some bewail the intrusion of yet more technology into their lives. And I remained sceptical and unsure. The more I read about the e-readers, the more I became convinced that the technology was still too intermediate to satisfy my own complex requirements.

So why, when my father asked what I’d like for my birthday did I put a Kindle on the list?

   Simple answer? Convenience.

   I travel quite a lot for both my jobs and on a five day trip, I will often have time on my hands between activities, where I am just sitting waiting for groups to return. I’ll have time at night to unwind in my hotel room. Now, for me this presents a problem. I read extremely fast. I might be able to consume an average length novel in a few hours. This means that for a five day trip I need to pack at least two, probably three books. And in addition to that, I can be moody and find a book boring that I thought I wanted to read. When you’re living out of a suitcase, you can’t afford to carry spares. So the idea of having a complete library in an item smaller than a paper back is very attractive.

   This Saturday, I squealed with delight on opening my parent’s present. There was the mythical Kindle to be explored. I downloaded a lot of classics and a few modern novels, plus some phrase books and so on and played around a bit. After a few days, I can report my findings.

 

Things I like: 1) the neat appearance 2) the light weight 3) the capacity for thousands of books. 4) the relative simplicity of use. 5) the internet access that also means you can have a book delivered instantly 6) the no-glare screen.

 

Things I don’t like: 1) the screen is too small. I’m a fast reader, and the small screen is off-putting because I like to be able to see both pages spread out. It feels like peering through a letterbox. 2) the judder as you change pages; it makes me think I’m getting a migraine. 3) the fact that it is an electronic device and yet is resolutely black and white 4) the experimental music facility only plays mp3 files and has no menu for contents so you have to play things in the order loaded and move them on. 5) the internet is slow and is in black and white; it makes me feel depressed when I am used to colour. 6) there is no option for back-lighting, which means you can’t read in the dark without a separate light; I know this was found to drain the battery quickly but it would be an option I’d find good. 7) the keyboard is so tiny that it’s hard to type.

 

   I was disappointed especially in the music feature as I had hoped to use that instead of an mp3 player, but the hassle of converting all my music files to mp3 is simply not worth it. I think part of me is looking for a single gadget to minimise the amount of stuff I carry; I had intended to wait until there was a write facility included so I could use it when away to work on stories , but that seems unlikely now. I shall have to continue to take my net-book on longer trips for that, as well as get a new mp3 player as my old one is not staying charged long enough.

 

   Another concern over e-readers is one that applies to all the gadgets we deem essential now, from mobile phones to laptops: instant obsolescence. I tend to keep a device until it actually stops working but most people change their mobile phone or pc as soon as a new model comes up. What happens to all these electronic gadgets when we’ve finished with them? Some can be recycled but most end up being dumped. When it comes to the end of life for a traditional book, the final resting place is seldom final. Books rot and they burn and they can also be pulped to make more paper or card. The fact that all e-readers whether Kindles or Nooks or whatever are intermediate technology means that there is going to be an ever increasing pile of obsolete ones to add to the mountain of discarded technology.

   The last and most nebulous of my objections to e-readers is the clinical and non-sensual aspect. They hold nothing of the organic world in the way that a paper book does; the folded down ends, the finger marks, the scent of paper and leather, the personal ephemeral memories like a four leafed clover from a summer meadow. I found a book for my daughter from my university days a few weeks back; the margins were littered with my pencilled in notes and comments and indeed those of the person who owned my book before me. While the Kindle allows you to annotate and highlight and indeed, see which parts of a book others have done that to, there is a coldness about this that for me at least would not bring back the memories my scribbling in a Latin poem did. Reading my notes, I was instantly back in a lecture theatre and could picture who I was sitting with and even feel for a second my ancient and decrepit old jeans that were disintegrating around me. The Kindle is too clean for that sort of memory to stick.

The e-reader is a boon for book-lovers and for authors but it is not going to totally replace the traditional book. The two are far from being mutually incompatible, and I intend to buy books I have enjoyed in either medium. Whatever means a book is delivered by does not change the book in its essence but may alter the experience of reading it.

Once more, horses for courses. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

A is for Aardvark ~ Close encounter with one of the world’s most amazing animals.

 First view, sleeping beauties 

A is for Aardvark ~ Close encounter with one of the world’s most amazing animals

My husband has long had a love for an unusual creature. Coming at the start of the dictionary and top of the list of animals nobody knows a lot about, aardvarks have enchanted him almost as long as we’ve been together. By one of those coincidences we live a few miles from one of only three places in Britain that has them, and the only one that offers the public the chance to get up close and personal with them.

The aardvark is a shy African animal that puzzled the first white settlers in Africa. Looking at it, they decided it must be some kind of pig but one that lived in the earth, so they named it Aardvark, which is Afrikaans for Earth-pig. There is not a single related species anywhere left on the planet; they are unique. Living on termites and ants, aardvarks can dig through rock hard earth and even concrete(as those who keep them in zoos found out) using incredibly powerful feet equipped with claws that are as hard as hooves. A male ‘vark can weigh up to around 63 kg, and the animal is about two or so feet at the shoulder.

Africa Alive wildlife park in Kessingland has three aardvarks: the male, Crigley and two females, Ellie and Mischa. They hope to have them breed, as the zoo at Colchester has successfully bred aardvarks, but so far, there has been only one still birth. Little is known about their lifestyle in the wild; the arrival of night photography has begun to open up a world hitherto unknown to humans. Studying them in captivity is adding to our understanding of their physiology and their behaviour. In the wild, their main predator is the lion, though they have been known to simply dig their way out of trouble and a predator that follows them down a burrow will probably find themselves walled in and buried alive. An aardvark can dig as fast as two men with shovels, which gives you some idea of how powerful those feet can be.

As a birthday treat our daughter offered us a close encounter, and today we got to enjoy it.

Rubbing in aqueous cream. Their skins need some extra care to stop it getting dry and cracked. They’re still sleeping as we rub them.

Their skin feels a little like a pigs, but the hair is softer. They smell a bit piglike too, but mixed with a smell of fermenting fruit and an overtone of musky, like a ferret.

This gives you a better idea of their size.

I was blown away by their sheer good nature!

That tongue is actually 45cm long and it used to for scoffing termites and ants!

The bottle contains meal worms and Mischa scoffed them down amazingly fast with her sticky and virtually prehensile tongue. They can stand on their hindlegs quite happily. Note the front feet, equipped with heavy duty claws.

The aardvark has only rudimentary teeth and is unlikely to try and bite. These three were super-laidback and happy around people. They are clumsy though so you can be knocked off your feet by them going through rather than round you. They’re incredibly powerful animals for their size; it took six keepers to hold Ellie down when the vet needed to give her an injection. They barely slowed her, let’s say.

The experience was utterly magical and we came away with immense grins. The aardvarks have a very serene energy and are contented and relaxed.

All in all, a wonderful morning.

Talking to myself ~ An exercise in self-confidence restoration

 

Talking to myself ~ An exercise in self-confidence restoration

I’ve reached a kind of a crisis of confidence and I’ve got nowhere to turn but inwards. Depression is said to be anger turned inwards and I know I am angry about so many things; I have reached a point where that inward-turning ire is going to manifest itself with some serious activity. Therefore, taking the advice of Ian, my long-time internet friend, I am going to give myself a talking-to: but not the usual stern and harsh one but something I hope will be more constructive. I hope you can follow the process without ending up cross-eyed. (PS. this was actually written some months ago, but having come back to thr same point, I thought it worth sharing.)

Me: so why are you getting your knickers in a twist about writing?

Me2: because I’ve been reading a lot of blogs written by other writers.

Me: so?

Me2: well, they all spend a lot of time writing about writing and reading about writing….

Me: so?

Me2: perhaps that’s something I ought to do too. Maybe I am simply being arrogant or just lazy to defy convention and ignore all the classic stuff about WIPs and alpha readers and how to write…

Me: what on earth makes you think that?

Me2: I guess it’s the pressure of numbers.

Me: but you’ve never been one to do what the crowd does.

Me2: yeah but maybe I’d have had a more productive life if I had done…

Me: Do you really think that? Is it not more likely that you would never have developed your own unique and very readable style if you had followed the crowd and taken writing classes and gone to online critiquing groups and so on?

Me2: maybe…

Me: there’s no maybe about it. You were alone. You didn’t need anyone to tell you how to write; I think you might have felt like punching someone who tried to tell you. You know there isn’t any one way to write.

Me2. But maybe I am being arrogant in dismissing the value of such things….

Me: you’re not. You’re dismissing their value for you. That’s a different thing. You’re an eagle. You can already fly better than most. You don’t need to take lessons. You already learned the hard way, with crash landings and disasters.

Me2: can we leave the eagle metaphor alone please?

Me: why? Is it making you uncomfortable?

Me2: yes, very.

Me: why?

Me2: because it seems to imply that I think I am greater than everybody else.

Me: and do you?

Me2:(small voice) not everybody. Just a heck of a lot of people. I hate even thinking it. I wouldn’t say it to anyone but you. I know you understand. I know I’m good. I just can’t deal with it because I have virtually nothing to show for it.

Me: you mean external validation?

Me2: yes. I guess so. I know that I have a heap of good reviews and so on. But it doesn’t seem to be enough.

Me: what would be enough?

Me2: I don’t know. Maybe being a best seller or something like that.

Me: so it’s numbers that matter?

Me2: yes. no. I don’t know. I guess if the majority of reviews are good, then…

Me: wait a moment. Do you mean that if The Crowd endorses your work, that’s going to make you accept who you are? The same crowd you’ve sought to keep away from all your life? The same crowd that said the Shopaholic books are great books?

Me2: now you put it like that it does sound silly.

Me: It does a bit, yes. But the people who have read and loved your work, does it matter than they are still small in number?

Me2: yes, it does matter. Not because I don’t trust their opinion. Not that. It’s a bit more than that. It comes down to the fact that I would like a greater number of people to benefit from what I write.

Me: the people who have commented, tell me, are they people who gain from praising you?

Me2: no. I don’t think so. So, their opinion is unbiased then, I guess.

Me: so you can trust them?

Me2: yes.

Me: and the people who you’ve been reading, who write and read about writing, what are they to you? Can they help you in any way?

Me2: in most cases, no. I could help them, I guess, by telling them there is no easy way to learn to write and no real short-cuts. Sure, you can learn some techniques, but I guess it’s like being a sports-person. You can get the fitness, and even learn the skills, but in the end, it comes down to a certain impossible to define star quality that gives someone the edge over others.

Me: you’re talking about being gifted.

Me2: I am? I suppose so. Being gifted is all very well but you do still need to put in the work, the training. Some things come easier, but maybe some come easier because you have a gift AND you have worked. I saw a Tweet about finding out what is on the best sellers lists and then you should go and write something like it. I say that is death to originality.

Me: you’re sounding a lot more positive.

Me2: I guess so. I wonder how many of the people who write about writing can actually write. I’ve skimmed through some and while none has struck me as drivel, none has actually struck me as original or fresh or really deeply creative and new, or from the heart. I’m not a good critic; I only really know what I like and why I like it. Some of them write genres I dislike intensely, so maybe my judgement is flawed.

Me: maybe.

Me2: there’s also the thing about not ever wanting to stamp on someone else’s dreams. That’s criminal.

Me: but that includes you own. You must remember that. Remember you are a writer who has served a long and lonely apprenticeship. You never had the luxury of other more experienced writers to tell you how to write, how to feel or anything. You had to be your own pioneer, your own guide, just like now. You must remember that numbers don’t matter. To have touched one heart and soul with your words is enough. To touch millions is a dream for tomorrow, not today. You care about all the readers you currently have; can you do that for millions? No. Remember these first readers with gratitude, because they got you started. They gave you the confidence to go on. This is what the others are seeking from their alpha readers and their blog commenters: the validation you’ve already had, for years. Even those rejection letters from publishers PRAISED your writing.

Me2: You may be right. But…

Me: But what?

Me2: I sense a bigger thing coming. I don’t know what. But maybe bigger readership.

Me: so get back to just writing. Don’t worry about whether you’re doing it right. You’ll fall from the sky if you keep checking your wings!

Me2: hahaha!! You’re right. I must just do: not think, do. Like Yoda says, there is no try. When it comes to writing, to write is all. To write constantly about writing does suggest they may have nothing left to write about.

Me: so what are you going to do?

Me2: believe in myself a bit more.

Me: good girl. Now go get writing!!!

Me2: OK, boss….

 

(Edited 26th of March. This was actually written about a year ago as an exercise to try and examine some emotions. I thought it worth sharing the process)